If I had told you tonight’s title before I read our scripture, you might have jumped to the wrong conclusion. Our title is “Prophet, Priest and King,” which I hope would have made you picture our Saviour. But if you stop and think, there is a sense in which we are miniature reflections of Christ even in these things. We are to represent him as ministers of His word; prophets in the sense of people sharing His revelation. And then as the Book of Revelation tells us several times, Christ “hast made us unto our God kings and priests: and we shall reign on the earth.” This evening I’d like to spend just a few minutes thinking about our roles as priests unto our God.
The Bible contains a great deal of information about the Old Testament priests of Israel, and we have much to learn about ourselves from those references, but we aren’t going to go there. Also, especially the Book of Hebrews, there is information about Christ Jesus, our great High Priest. But as to our own priesthood I could think of only five references. And it’s to those references I’d like briefly to draw your attention.
Let us start with I Peter 2.
After exhorting his readers – primarily new believers – to forsake their old habits… Peter encouraged them to feast on and fill themselves with God’s word that they might spiritually grow. He was assuming they had been born again and had tasted of the Lord’s grace. Then speaking of the Lord, he mentioned that Christ had been rejected by the world, but to those who had been born again, He is the cornerstone of great and glorious things. And upon that foundation and cornerstone the saints have been placed in order to build a temple for the glory of God. Then mixing his metaphors he says, “Ye also… are … an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ.”
In I Peter 2:5 the Apostle tells us that those young believers – and us by extension – are, right now, a part of God’s current priesthood. We have replaced the priests of Israel, just as Christ has replaced Aaron and the High Priests. Elsewhere we learn that we are, through Christ, priests after the order of Melchizedek – not Levi. One of the problems with Israel’s priesthood had been the sins of those men – sins which required constant sacrifices and cleansings. But the New Testament saint is part of a holy priesthood, cleansed, by the sacrifice our great High Priest Himself never again needing atoning sacrifices.
And our purpose as New Testament priests is to offer SPIRITUAL sacrifices. That’s not virtual sacrifices, but real spiritual sacrifices. Not legal sacrifices but spiritual. And such sacrifices, because the are spiritual and because of the way in which they are presented, are acceptable to the Father, through the merits of the High Priest – Christ Jesus.
Four verses later Peter gives us that well-known statement –
“But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light.” Once again, notice that these Christians, many of whom were still spiritual babes, were already considered priests by the Lord. But not priests in an individual, isolated way – they were part of an entire order – God’s “royal priesthood.” The adjective “royal” of course refers to “kingly” priests.
Since the 3rd century after Christ, men claiming to be priests have tried their best to be kings as well. When Julius Caesar began to gather his political power, crossing the Rubicon to become the Roman Emperor, he reached into their heathen religion as well. And in 63BC he claimed for himself “Pontifex Maximus” which means “greatest” or “highest priest.” He became, in his own mind, if not in the minds of other, both king and high priest. And when the bishop of Rome later called himself “Pontifex Maximus” he reversed the tables on Caesar trying to usurp the civil government to augment his fallen priestly rule. The travesty of this human king/priests kept Europe in the dark ages for centuries. But under Christ – thinking especially of the Millennium – God’s saints will be given rule as “royal priests.” You and I will represent God before the rest of humanity, and we will represent them before God.
But we are not in the Millennium, we aren’t even yet in the Tribulation. So in order to keep our heads from swelling unduly or prematurely, Peter keeps things in perspective. Today, our royal priesthood is pointed in one direction only – upward. No one should lord over God’s heritage, but, as priests we should all be ensamples to the rest of God’s flock.
More specifically, “ye are a … a royal priesthood … that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light.” We are to offer God the sacrifice of our lives – including our wills and our hearts – our love. It is the duty of the priest to “love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.” Do you remember how much of the Promised Land was deeded unto the Priests and Levites? None. They were the people of God and everything they owned was the Lord’s. And similarly, as the Lord’s priests today, everything we own should be considered His. “Ye also… are … an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ.” It is our duty to offer up the spiritual gifts of praise, and even of prayer. Like Hannah, our children should be recognized as being the property of God. The kindness we show to others, our hospitality, our neighborly friendliness should be offered to others as sacrifices to the Lord.
But those sacrifices must be presented to the Lord in the manner and attitude which God has proscribed. The rules laid upon the Levitical priests were pretty severe, but of course the specifics don’t apply to us. And yet, if our service and sacrifices are not sincere and sinless, humbly offered and heartfelt, they will not be acceptable to God. They must be offered in the name and authority of Jesus Christ our great High Priests. And they must be with a desire to glorify “him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light.”
Let’s move now to Revelation 1 –
Like Peter, who told his friends about their priesthood, John does the same in a different way. Verse 4 – “John to the seven churches which are in Asia: Grace be unto you, and peace, from him which is, and which was, and which is to come; and from the seven Spirits which are before his throne; And from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, and the first begotten of the dead, and the prince of the kings of the earth. Unto him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood, And hath made us kings and priests unto God and his Father; to him be glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen.” Notice first of all, Christ has made us kings and priests. In Exodus 28 we learn that it was not Moses’ choice to make his brother the first of Israel’s priests. It was not nepotism – keeping the power and position in the family. Aaron was the choice of God, just as God chose the missionaries in Acts 13 – “Separate me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them.” Like all of God’s servants, priests are chosen by the Lord, and then often they are ordained and separated to God’s choice by others. Moses ordained Aaron and the church in Antioch ordained Barnabas and Saul.
And far as we are concerned, probably none of us ever thought about choosing ourselves to be God’s priests. There would be such a degree of pride in that which would negate whatever service we could perform. No, God chose and ordained us kings and priests through Christ our Saviour.
And, of course, preceding that choice and ordination there was the necessity of cleansing and salvation. He who “loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood” has made us “kings and priests unto God and his Father.” And notice the word “love.” I hope that you, as a child of God, fully realize that divine love was at the root of your salvation. But consider also, love is involved in our call into the priesthood. It is not a burden to serve Christ; it is not a painful weight to serve the people around us as priests of God. It is an exceptional privilege; one which has been given to because He loved us.
In Revelation 5 we are granted the honor of looking into Heaven for a moment.
There we see the translated saints standing before their Saviour. Verse 6 – “And I beheld, and, lo, in the midst of the throne and of the four beasts, and in the midst of the elders, stood a Lamb as it had been slain, having seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven Spirits of God sent forth into all the earth. And he came and took the book out of the right hand of him that sat upon the throne. And when he had taken the book, the four beasts and four and twenty elders fell down before the Lamb, having every one of them harps, and golden vials full of odours, which are the prayers of saints. And they sung a new song, saying, Thou art worthy to take the book, and to open the seals thereof: for thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God by thy blood out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation; And hast made us unto our God kings and priests: and we shall reign on the earth.”
One of our duties as God’s priests is to praise Him. We are to praise Him for Who He is in all His glorious attributes – holiness, omnipotence, and so on. We are to praise Him for His use of that omnipotence – the intricacies of creation and providence, for example. And we certainly will praise Him for the blessings which He has bestowed upon us. It might sound selfish, but how can we not eternally thank the Lord for saving us – particularly in the light of our wretched sins and rebellion.
Notice that it is in the midst of the elders’ praise of the Lamb that they bring up their royal priesthood – “And they sung a new song, saying, Thou art worthy to take the book, and to open the seals thereof: for thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God by thy blood out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation; And hast made us unto our God kings and priests: and we shall reign on the earth.” Once again there is the blending of our royalty as princes under the King and our priesthood under our great Melchisedec. And this time there is a reference to the realm over which we shall serve our King – “we shall reign on the earth.”
I am not going to attempt to explain what life will be like during the Millennium – it is beyond me. But neither am I going to deny what the Bible says; I am not going to explain it away or allegorize it. The point is, we are kings and priests unto Christ today, with honors and duties we are not nearly diligent enough in performing. But in a few short years, those honors and duties will become the primary focus of our lives. And they will fill us with such joy that our mouths will hardly cease from singing new songs about them. “And they sung a new song, saying, Thou art worthy …And hast made us unto our God kings and priests: and we shall reign on the earth.”
The last reference to our priesthood comes near the end of the Word of God – Revelation 20.
Once again we are looking into God’s throne room, but this is several years later. “I saw an angel come down from heaven, having the key of the bottomless pit and a great chain in his hand. and he laid hold on the dragon, that old serpent, which is the Devil, and Satan, and bound him a thousand years, And cast him into the bottomless pit, and shut him up, and set a seal upon him, that he should deceive the nations no more, till the thousand years should be fulfilled: and after that he must be loosed a little season. And I saw thrones, and they sat upon them, and judgment was given unto them: and I saw the souls of them that were beheaded for the witness of Jesus, and for the word of God, and which had not worshipped the beast, neither his image, neither had received his mark upon their foreheads, or in their hands; and they lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years. But the rest of the dead lived not again until the thousand years were finished. This is the first resurrection. Blessed and holy is he that hath part in the first resurrection: on such the second death hath no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with him a thousand years.”
These royal priests are said to be a part of the first resurrection. That first resurrection was not a one time event. It isn’t the resurrection which took place when Christ died, nor was it any found in the Old Testament. This isn’t the resurrection which takes place at the translation of the saints. The “first resurrection” refers to all these and more – it is the resurrection of God’s saints in toto. It stand opposite to the resurrection unto damnation which takes place at the end of the Millennium – “But the rest of the dead lived not again until the thousand years were finished.” In other words, these people – these priests – are those whom Christ Jesus has saved. And notice the character of these people – they are blessed, and they are holy. Their holiness is actually one of the blessings of salvation. They aren’t holy because of their priestly attire, unless you are talking about the robe of Christ’s righteousness. They aren’t holy because they have been ordained by earlier priests or any other human beings. They haven’t made themselves holy through their work or their worship. Their holiness is one of the blessed gifts of God. It is a part of salvation – justification – the declaration and application of Christ’s righteousness. Oh, and by the way, they possess eternal life – “the second death hath no power over them.”
Notice also, they shall be priests of God AND of Christ. In a statement like that we are obligated to unite God the Father and God the Son. Those two are co-equals. To worship the one is to worship the other. To serve the one is to serve the other. These royal priests are the ministers of God through the Lord Jesus Christ.
And we are among them. Never forget that along with all the other responsibilities we have as Christians, we are priests of the Lord as well. What sort of sacrifices have you offered to the Lord today? Ask yourself – how can I be a better priest tomorrow than I have been today?